If you turn to booze to help you snooze, you could be messing with the quality of your sleep.
We’ll tell you why and give you tips for getting better sleep after a night out.
Anyone who’s ever indulged in a drink or two knows that alcohol can make you real sleepy, real fast.
That’s because alcohol depresses the central nervous system. It has a sedative effect that helps you relax and makes you drowsy, so you fall asleep faster.
Researchers have found that the sedative effect only lasts for the first part of the night, though. People who consume alcohol before bed don’t wake up as often during the first few hours of sleep. If they do, it’s for shorter periods.
Once that effect wears off, alcohol starts having the opposite effect.
Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but that’s it.
Research shows that alcohol actually has a disruptive effect on your sleep the rest of the night and messes with sleep quality and quantity.
Alcohol before bed has been shown to lead to fragmented sleep and frequent waking. There are a few reasons for this.
Less REM sleep
Alcohol has been linked to reduced rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This is the deepest stage of sleep. It’s also when dreaming occurs.
REM sleep has a restorative effect and plays a role in memory and concentration. Poor or insufficient REM sleep has been linked to not only grogginess the next day, but also a higher risk of disease and early death.
Disrupted circadian rhythm
As your body metabolizes the alcohol and the sedative effects wear off, it can interfere with your circadian rhythm, and cause you to wake up frequently or before you’re properly rested.
Getting up to pee
And speaking of waking up frequently: There’s the frequent urination that goes hand-in-hand with a night of drinking.
Alcohol has a diuretic effect that causes your body to release more water in the way of urine. Drink a lot and you’re adding even more liquid to the mix. The result is a lot of trips to the bathroom and a (mostly) sleepless night.
Finally, going to bed with alcohol in your system increases your chances of having vivid dreams or nightmares, or sleepwalking and other parasomnias. This all will lead to sleep that’s anything but restful.
It seems moderation is key when it comes to booze before bed.
Drinking a light to moderate amount of alcohol (one or two standard drinks) before bed may not have much of an impact.
If you pass the moderate threshold, though, you’ll get a lot more of that initial non-REM sleep, but significantly reduce the total percentage of REM sleep over the whole night.
If you just feel slightly tipsy, you’ll probably feel fine. If you feel pretty drunk, you’ll probably fall asleep quickly but have a restless night.
While a drink can help you relax before bed so you get to sleep faster, alcohol is far from being a reliable or even safe sleep aid.
First, alcohol affects everyone differently because of a slew of factors, like age, biological sex, and body composition, just to name a few.
Also, research shows that people can develop a tolerance to this boozy method within three nights, causing you to need a larger amount of alcohol to get the same effect.
If you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep often, see your healthcare provider. They can rule out any underlying cause for your insomnia and recommend the best treatment for you.
If you’re planning on heading out for a night that will involve some drinks, there are some things you can do to help you sleep afterward.
How to sleep after drinking
- Give your body time to process the alcohol. It’s hard to say exactly how long it takes your body to metabolize alcohol, but the general rule of thumb is 1 hour for a standard drink. That means if you have three drinks, you should cut yourself off at least 3 hours before your planned bedtime.
- Go to the bathroom before bed. Depending on how much you drink, chances are you’ll need to pee again during the night. But relieving yourself right before bed might buy you some extra time.
- Stay away from fizzy drinks. Carbonated alcoholic beverages are absorbed by your body faster, which can make you tipsy faster and make it harder for you to fall asleep.
- Skip drinks with caffeine. No Jagerbombs or rum and Coke if you want to get some sleep! Drinks that contain alcohol and caffeine are even more likely to keep you up. Plus, the stimulating effect of caffeine can make you feel the booze less, so you end up drinking more.
Having the occasional nightcap to unwind is no biggie and may help you fall asleep faster. Just keep in mind that alcohol affects everyone differently.
Drinking too much is likely to have the opposite effect and leave you feeling groggy and possibly hungover the next day.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow, or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddleboard.